If you asked anyone who owned the stage at the launch event for the Pixel 4 last fall, you'd get one answer: That guy who demoed the cameras. That guy is Marc Levoy, and he's been at the head of the Google Pixel camera team for several years. Now, he's gone, according to a new report from The Information, as is long-time smartphone lead at Google Mario Queiroz.
Levoy allegedly departed the company back in March. Neither Levoy nor Google commented upon the move, but that won't stop endless speculation about just what led to it. My guess? It's really not fun to be the all-star running back on a team that consistently fails to make the playoffs. Levoy's history in science and academia may not have made him seem like the kind of person that would jump ship after a few disappointments (after all, science is itself a highly repetitive exercise in disappointment), but in the few interactions I had with him, he was clearly immensely proud of the work he and his team did on the Pixel's camera. I recall flying to Mobile World Congress in 2019, and I happened to be seated next to him on the plane. We chatted a bit about astrophotography, low-light photography, and a few other tangential topics, but I, like everyone I know who's spoken with him in this business, was pretty awed at not just his understanding of technical photography concepts, but in how well he explained them. To say Google lost an asset in Marc is probably understating it.
As for Queiroz, he wasn't well-known by most in the smartphone world, but he had in fact led every smartphone launch Google's had a hand in since the G1. Apparently, Queiroz had switched positions internally at Google before the Pixel 4 launched, so his departure was likely on the horizon a long time ago, and he actually left the company way back in January. After 10 years, it's not exactly surprising someone might choose to change up their career, but losing a longstanding veteran has got to be a little demoralizing for the larger crew at Google.
The Information also reported a fairly juicy nugget of gossip regarding head of hardware Rick Osterloh. According to TI, during an all-hands before the Pixel 4's launch last fall, the executive openly expressed disappointment in the battery life of the Pixel 4. That may not sound like a big deal, but in the context of a major corporation, a C-level executive making clear he was disappointed in an important aspect of a nearly ready-to-go product just weeks before its launch is hugely unusual. It also potentially speaks a little poorly to Osterloh's leadership: if he was that concerned about battery life, why hadn't it been a priority much earlier on in the phone's development? It's not as though "enlarge the battery" is a complex management directive when you run the whole division and have insight into every step of the process.
Clearly, things aren't going as Google and Osterloh planned with Pixel, and most estimates have Pixel 4 sales down considerably from the already lackluster Pixel 3. The Pixel 4a's launch is likely imminent at this point, and while I certainly don't think the loss of Levoy or Queiroz are likely to have much of an impact on that phone at this point, you have to think morale on the Pixel team is approaching all-time lows.
- The Information